Message Delivered at Church of the Cross
The Feast of the Holy Cross
September 11, 2016
TEXTS: Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 15:1-10
Good morning, everyone.
So Bernadette, Peter, and I have now lived here about three years. That’s not a particularly long time, but it is long enough for Austin and Lake Travis to truly be our home. People ask me where I’m from now, and I say I’m “from Lake Travis,” maybe “Austin,” depending on the conversation.
Now all that means that we’ve learned a few things…
…summertime is hot…
…barbecue is beef; and if you really want to impress someone, eat it without any sauce…
…in these parts, football is different than in other parts of the country…
…there is lots of great music, of course; and lots of great museums; and parks; and swimming holes. And beyond just the local area we’ve explored Dallas, and Houston, and Galveston, and Port A, and El Paso, and San Antonio; and that Gruene isn’t Gru-en, it’s “Green.” And we’ve been there, too…
…and we’ve made friends with traffic. I finally learned: it always takes longer to get downtown than it says on your GPS.
…and when I moved here, I got lost a lot. On the day I drove into town the first thing I did—even before checking into the Mountain Star Lodge—was get lost. That kind of stuff happened a lot early on…
But we know a lot more about living in Texas than we once did. I think we’ve done a pretty good job setting up shop in what is, for us, new territory. Made a lot of friends. And mostly now, I know my way around…at least well enough.
But there are times still when I feel new, and still feel like I’m learning my way; where I am deeply aware that shared history is still being created.
And this is one of those times…
This is a complicated day; and being new…in a new part of the country; in a new community; being a new pastor serving in a new church…I have pondered for several weeks how we would walk through this day together. Please don’t think pastors put things on auto-pilot. We don’t.
It is a day of national solemn remembrance. Those of us of age remember exactly where we were that morning fifteen years ago today. We remember the horror, and the fear, and the chaos, and the anger, and the grief; and on this day, a little bit of it comes back every year. We don’t skip through this day…
Its legacy lives on. The same kind of violence, on a different scale, is still around. We are very much aware of that, considering this past summer. We have presidential candidates arguing over who said what when about the war in Iraq, and how they plan to defeat the newest generation of terrorists. There are memorials and stories in the news. In Qatar, where our son is on active duty in the army, they are on heightened alert…because it’s September 11.
At the same time, it is our feast day…the feast of the Holy Cross happens this Wednesday. And as is customary in our tradition, on the Sunday before our feast day, we celebrate it; we celebrate our name, and the eternal truth from which our name comes; we celebrate that God has given us life; that God has created a new people. Two years ago we weren’t; and now we are, with a hopeful future before us; and that we are is through the goodness and grace of God; and that’s something to be joyful about, and celebrate, and have a party over…a party with a singing zoologist!
Every few years, these two days are going to come together for us. There will be two things going on at once. But this is the first time for us. And I will share with you that this year…being still so new in so many ways…I wondered a while back whether I should move our observance to next Sunday; so that the days and moments could be separated out.
I decided against that.
I came to the prayerful conclusion that the powers of evil—and by that I do not mean Islam; I mean the powers of all sorts that seek to bring only pain and destruction and hatred—those powers do not get to keep this day. The forces of darkness love it when we’re afraid and think too much of them, and we don’t want to give the forces of darkness anything to love. So we’re celebrating today to claim that God is alive, and keeps planting the cross of suffering and hope as a sign to the nations.
I would go so far as to say that if there is any day we should be observing the Feast of the Holy Cross…the cross after which we are named…it’s today.
The cross…the one on which Christ was crucified; this one in our cafeteria; the one around your neck or hanging over your doorway at home…reminds us how God takes on our humanity, fully; including our suffering…
How God goes the distance for our sakes, and takes no short-cut. Jesus could have split that cross in two, landed on his feet, and taken out a few Romans. But he loves humanity too much for that; loves us too much to take the easy way out. Life is not easy. Crosses come. They come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they are placed upon us; sometimes we pick them up. But because he did not throw off his own cross, we can proclaim that he helps us carry our own. The cross is the way God says “I am with you,” and that makes us an “I am with you” people.
At the cross, all humanity is gathered in, regardless of how often or how disastrously we go our own way. We are taken on, and we are taken in. There’s a prayer in the prayer book that beseeches Jesus this way: “Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that all the world might come within the reach of your saving embrace…” The horizontal lines of the cross remind us of God’s saving embrace; that always God is brooding over us; stretching and reaching and seeking.
We cannot get so far lost that we won’t get found. Like the shepherd who traipses through muddy streams and thorn bushes to find the lost sheep; and like the woman who moves the refrigerator, takes the cushions off the sofa, rakes the dirt in the front yard, and combs through the kitty litter with a fork to find a lost coin; like a Savior hanging on a cross and reaching out to all humanity…there ain’t no keeping God from looking for us, and finding us, and throwing a massive party because the lost have been found and are right back home where they belong.
Once the cross…of which we are; we are “of the cross…” once it was a tool of torture and death and terror. But because of what happened there…because of who went there; to death; “even death on a cross,” as Paul writes the Philippians…the cross is transformed, reminding us that we are transformed; that life wins; and love wins; and God wins; and that this is a new day of Resurrection; and that when tomorrow comes, that’s a new day of Resurrection, too.
Which does not mean that we do not weep. It just means that through our tears, we declare boldly that through the power of God morning always comes again:
The dead are raised;
Life is eternal;
The peace which passeth all understanding is possible; and we shall neither cower nor fear. Instead, we stand firm on the true foundation, unwavering–not by our own strength and power but by the Spirit of God;
That we stand resistant for the sake of God’s peace and justice and mercy and hope, and march in the light of God with the cross before us;
And through our hands and feet and words and generosity, we are the courageous ambassadors of God’s love God calls us to be.
I said last week that I wouldn’t give you six months of sermon stories from our trip to France. Just one. Well, here’s just one more:
…in Paris we stayed in an efficiency apartment. It’s cheaper, and more fun than a hotel. We got in, and Bernadette called the owner to let him know we were there. And he thanked her for coming. It’s been a rough year in France, and a lot of people who might have traveled there went somewhere else. And I overheard my wife say this…she said to the guy, ”No terrorist is going to keep us away.” And I just thought “Whoa…dear!” And he replied in a way that I think only someone from France would respond: “Vive le’Resistance!”
The cross? It is “Vive le’Resistance”…”resistance” against the powers of evil, and darkness, and death.
Once, it was just a cross. But now it is our sign of God’s presence in our deepest places…reaching into the ashes; reaching towards the heavens; and reaching to embrace all humanity.
Once it was a tool of the forces of darkness; now it is a sign of God’s stand against those very same forces; and the declaration that they shall not prevail.
Once it tore people apart. Now it is a sign for us to stand as deeply in the suffering of humanity as in the joy.
Once it meant death. Now it is the sign of God’s Kingdom of life and joy and celebration; and the justice, and love, and mercy, and new life, and resurrection, and hope it promises. Now it is the sign of life.
So I would say that today is the perfect day to observe the Feast of the Holy Cross…
…and celebrate that God is good; the Lord is present in our suffering and bringing us to healing; that in the midst of grief there is still room for rejoicing; that God’s love is greater than any human being’s hate; that Resurrection always is; not just then, but today; and not just today, but tomorrow; and not just tomorrow, but forever.